GMAs: Genetically Modified Astronauts

| 1/16/2012 10:27:45 AM


Small farmers, conscious consumers, and conservationists of all stripes are, at the very least, wary of genetically modified crops. They’re a wild, largely untested disruptor in already-fragile ecosystems that have gotten along just fine without any intrinsically-tinkered species. But that hesitancy doesn’t really hold water if there’s no ecosystem to begin with. Like on Mars, say.

Mars’ atmosphere boasts one-hundredth the density of Earth’s, which will pose a deadly radiation threat to any life that might ever try to inhabit it, including human colonists. According to Reason’s Tim Cavanaugh, “Any crew dispatched on the 18-to-30-month mission to Mars will face highly elevated risks of cancer, tissue degradation, bone density loss, brain damage, pharmaceutical spoilage, and other health threats.”

You could argue that, of course, humans didn’t evolve alongside the Martian landscape. But that’s just you muzzling your inner science-fiction geek. Why let a little thing like “near-inhospitability of a planet” crush our dreams of solar system stretching Manifest Destiny? That, suggests Cavanaugh, is where genetic engineering comes in.

Human enhancement—creating a pre-adapted colonist—may be the only way to survive the initially hostile terrain of other planets. Which only makes sense for an intelligent, multi-planetary species. “A future for humans on Mars,” writes Cavanaugh, “requires us to clear a conceptual hurdle, to accept that the human form is not a norm or an ideal or even a default. It’s how intelligent life adapted, with many inefficiencies, to a particular place.”

Some scientific inquiry, according to Cavanaugh’s reporting, is already brewing to develop organisms suited for life on Mars. He spoke to Peter H. Diamandis, the CEO of the X Prize Foundation, about various privately-funded ventures for interplanetary travel. “There’s no question,” Diamandis said,

Joseph Russo
8/16/2012 5:40:53 PM

If you're going to genetically alter humans to escape the overpopulation, why not just make humans really small to conserve on everything? We have the modern house cat that's no where near a lion. It's totally possible. Let's "gilligan-Island" this race!

sly scribe
1/18/2012 9:53:06 PM

See: The Seedling Stars by James Blish (1950s!!!)

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